On November 9th the Catholic Church throughout the world celebrates the anniversary of the consecration of the Archbasilica of the Most Holy Saviour in the city of Rome, known also as St. John Lateran. On the façade is carved the proud title “Omnium Urbis et Orbis Ecclesiarum Mater et Caput” – “The Mother and Head of all Churches of the City and of the World.” It is the cathedral of Rome – it is the Pope’s Cathedral, and so is, in a sense, the Cathedral of the world – senior in dignity even to St. Peter’s Basilica.
One of the reasons we celebrate this Feast is because the Church wants us to remember the importance of consecrated places in which the worship of God takes place. It reminds us of the importance of the consecration of every Catholic Church throughout the world. It is a reminder to us of the Incarnational principle on which our faith is based – that God extends His spiritual blessings to us through the use of physical things. He took human flesh upon Himself. He has instituted seven sacraments which use outward forms to communicate inward grace. He has established a hierarchical Church, with a physical presence in the world, to be a sign of His own presence with us.
O Most blessed Saviour, who didst vouchsafe thy gracious presence at the Feast of Dedication: be present with us at this time by thy Holy Spirit, and so possess our souls by thy grace; that we may be living temples, holy and acceptable unto thee; who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
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The Gospel (St. John 2:13-22) appointed for the Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran puts before us the commanding figure of Jesus Christ striding into the great Temple in Jerusalem. He cleanses it, making a whip of cords and driving out the sellers of animals and the money-changers, overturning their tables and telling them, “Take these things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” Christ did this, because those who were buying and selling within the temple of God were not doing it for the glory of God; they were not doing it for the worship of God or for the good of man; rather, it was for personal gain and for selfish reasons.
The Church teaches us that religion is more than just the vertical dimension of the spiritual life – it’s more that simply “God and me.” Ethics and morality must be the practical expression of a true and living faith. How we conduct ourselves in the marketplace reflects our relationship with God. Certain business practices may be legal but that doesn’t insure they are ethical. Certainly, making a profit isn’t condemned in Scripture, but accumulating great wealth by unjustly taking advantage of someone else is.
So, with the crack of a whip, Christ drove the money changers from the temple. And He did it not only because of the contempt that was being shown to the Temple – a place consecrated to God – but also because of the injustice being shown to the people who were there to worship the God in whose honor the Temple had been built. Christ was not kind and gentle that day.
When good people are faced with evil, it would seem that our Lord has given something of an example to follow. He did not limit himself to prayer or to talk; He also did something about it. “To everything there is a season,” the Scriptures tell us, and we can see that even in the life of Christ that there was a season to make a stand against evil by taking specific action.
It was necessary for Christ to drive the money-changers out of the temple because of the evil they had brought into the lives of honest people, and because of the dishonor those actions brought to the House of God. So it is necessary at times that evil must be faced squarely by taking positive action, so that the common good might be preserved. Sometimes, for the triumph of good, the whip must be cracked, and evil must be beaten back.
Whether it be civil leaders inflicting injustice on people; or whether it be those who steal the right to life from the unborn; or whether it be the unfaithful cleric who cheats people from knowing the fullness of the Gospel and from worshipping according to the mind of the Church; or whether it be the gossip who destroys the reputation of another – we are called to stand up for the good, and against the evil.
The Gospel tells us that after Christ had cleansed the Temple, “his disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for thy house will consume me...’” And so should zeal for the things of God consume us. Zeal is the business side of love, whether it be love of God or love of man. “Zeal,” says St. Thomas Aquinas, “is the energy of love.” Zeal, as an ardent love of God, is to be shown in our lives as a desire to promote the love of God, to promote the worship of God, to promote the praise of God, to promote the glory of God. It is to be shown in our spiritual lives as we perform those Christian works of mercy and love that we have been taught by our Lord. And zeal, also, is to be shown in practical ways, as we accept our responsibility for the support and work of Christ’s Body the Church. This is one of the reasons we have places of beauty, consecrated to the glory of God – so that you and I can be inspired to be zealous for God and for the things of God; so that we can work for justice in this world; so that we can spread the truth of the Gospel by our words and our actions – and also, to give us a glimpse of the eternity of heaven.